In the two or three decades up to the 1990s, the New Zealand party system became less and less dominated by the two parties around which it had aligned in the 1930s. Of these, the National Party is at heart ideologically conservative, with a tinge of old-fashioned liberalism. Labour emerged out of the trade union movement in 1916, and by the 1980s had become a centre-left party predominantly made up of the salaried middle class. Before the 1990s, at the parliamentary level two-party politics reigned. Party competition was shaped by a first past the post (FPTP) or single-member plurality (SMP) electoral system. Electorally, dealigning trends were apparent, but had little impact on parliamentary politics. Table 14.1 shows that while the number of effective parliamentary parties remained at around or below two until 1996, the number of effective electoral parties was already just under three in 1984. Table 14.2 shows that single-party governments ruled, and that they were predominantly National. From 1990 onwards electoral demand for wider parliamentary representation and more accountable government underpinned a successful campaign for proportional representation (see Vowles 1995 ; Jackson and McRobie 1998).
The 1996 and 1999 elections were fought under a new mixed member proportional (MMP) electoral system. MMP produced Parliaments that differed substantially from those elected in 1993 and earlier. In 1993 four parties were represented, but National and Labour had more than 95 per cent of the seats between them. In 1996 six parties were represented in the House, and National and Labour together could muster only just over two-thirds of the seats. To Labour's left, the Alliance represented a robust belief in social democracy. A centre party, United, kept one seat due to an electoral pact with National. The newest party, the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers (ACT), took a position on the neo-liberal right of the party system. New Zealand First, a populist nationalist party aimed its appeals to the political centre. Together with the National Party, in 1996 New Zealand First formed New Zealand's first coalition government since the 1930s. That coalition